JTC to undergo independent audit requested by the ABJM

On December 21, 2023, the Michigan Supreme Court issued Administrative Order No. 2023-2 authorizing the Judicial Tenure Commission to disclose confidential and privileged information in its files only as necessary to complete the independent audit requested by the Association of Black Judges of Michigan.

Judge Curtis J. Bell, ABJM’s president, said he is grateful for the Michigan Supreme Court’s Administrative Order and leadership.

“ABJM’s request for an independent audit did not come as a surprise to the leadership of the Commission as our executive board met with Executive Director Lynn Helland over a year ago and informed him of ABJM’s plans to make this request of the state’s highest court in hopes that the Commission would join the ABJM in the search of transparency. The recent order of the Michigan Supreme Court was a necessary and historic step towards that transparency.”
Bell, chief judge of the Kalamazoo County Probate Court, emphasized that “[the audit] must be independent of the Judicial Tenure Commission’s influences. The auditors must have access to all records starting with the original letter/complaint by the party to the determination by the Commission to seek Supreme Court review of the Master’s Findings. The Michigan Supreme Court’s Order makes this possible.”

Bell also said he has been heartened by the support the ABJM has received.

“As an organization, we remain pleased that the ABJM’s letter was received favorably by the Michigan Supreme Court and that we received support from a number of organizations. The recognition of the importance of this issue by Governor Whitmer and State Senator Stephanie Chang was also very meaningful," said Bell.

According to Bell, the request for an independent audit was prompted on “information and belief that over the past 15 to 20 years, the Commission has prosecuted Black judges at a disproportionately higher rate than white judges.”

He noted that over the last 20 years the percentage of Black judges in Michigan has remained around 16 percent of the state’s judiciary. A review of the formal complaints by the JTC since 2020, according to the ABJM, revealed that 80 percent of the judges prosecuted by the Commission have been Black.

ABJM’s audit request was supported by the Detroit Branch of the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, and the Black Women Lawyers Association of Michigan.

Each organization sent a letter to the Michigan Supreme Court supporting the audit request.

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